A game with plenty of speed and skill, the matchup between the Iowa Wild and the Neponset Valley River Rats did not disappoint as the Game of the Day at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 18U National Championship tournament.
Iowa walked away with a 4-2 victory and remained undefeated, winning its second consecutive contest on Thursday night.
“It feels really good,” said Wild head coach Nick Sova. “We’ve got a good group and they’ve been a good group all year. Anything you ask them to do, they do it. They’re a hard-working team and they’ve made games tough on our opponents. That’s what we’ve done the past few games and fortunately it’s worked out for us.”
After an opening 10 minutes filled with plenty of speed and back-and-forth action, the Wild went to the power play at the 10:51 mark.
Following the penalty, Justin Thompson capitalized on the power play to put Iowa up by one. Keegan Thompson-McDonald and Christopher Rubenach picked up the helpers.
After entering the zone, Thompson-McDonald collected the puck at the left point and walked into the slot. After it appeared everyone on the ice thought a shot on goal was coming, Thompson-McDonald fed a hard pass to the left post where Thompson was waiting to redirect the puck into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Following the opening goal, the Wild used that momentum to apply continuous pressure in the offensive zone.
At the 14:44 mark, Zachary Frisk won a puck battle in the left corner before taking the puck to the net. After firing a low shot on goal, Frisk collected the rebound and pulled the puck to his backhand before tucking it home to give his team a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
The second period featured some more back-and-forth play with both teams generating some quality chances. Neponset Valley went to the power play at the 5:32 mark after a cross checking penalty was assessed to Iowa, but the River Rats could not convert. At the end of the second period, the score remained at a 2-0 lead for Iowa.
With one period remaining, the River Rats came out of the locker room with urgency to start the third period and capitalized almost immediately.
At the 49 second mark, Tyler Young collected the puck near the top of the left circle and saucered an area pass near the left faceoff dot. Quinton Fox dashed to the puck and fired a backhand shot that snuck through Iowa goalie Trent Burnham and brought the River Rats to within one.
Despite the River Rats creeping to within one, the Wild remained composed for the remainder of the game.
“We did that a lot in the first period and a lot in the third period,” said Sova. “We didn’t give up. We let up the early goal in the third and instead of getting down on the bench we came out and scored another goal. The perseverance with the group was awesome.”
At the 10:57 mark, John Craycroft chipped a puck out of the Iowa zone up the right boards. Luke Westerfield dashed through the neutral zone and collected the puck. After gaining possession Westerfield flew into the offensive zone and cut to the middle before firing a shot past the glove of River Rats goaltender Andrew Beran. With the goal, Iowa took a 3-1 lead.
After a hooking penalty was assessed to Iowa, the River Rats scored again to cut the deficit to one.
Casey Severo collected the puck at the left circle and fired a cross-crease pass to Fox who was waiting at the doorstep to put home his second goal of the contest. Young picked up his second assist of the game on the goal.
The Wild responded once again with another goal by Frisk. Rubenbach collected the puck in the offensive zone and threw a puck on net that was deflected by Frisk and found its way behind Beran at the 18:03 mark. That goal sealed the deal and secured a 4-2 win for the Wild.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Sova. “The biggest thing right now is we’re playing Iowa Wild hockey the way it’s supposed to be played and we’re not going to stop there. We’re happy with 2-0 and we want to go 3-0. We want to give ourselves the best opportunity to play as long as we can. The message after the game was pretty simple. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing. That’s two down and we’ve got four to go.”
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